The anticipated sequel to Lisa See’s Shanghai Girls has finally arrived.
The story takes place right where we last left off from Shanghai Girls with Joy’s discovery of her family secret and her running away from home to China in an attempt to find some answers. Joy is a 19-year-old college student living during the heat of Communism in China, and her acquired knowledge of it from school gives her impressions of it that may or may not be true once she sets foot there.
Dreams of Joy alternates between the perspectives of Joy as she travels through Red China trying to find her father, and Pearl as she comes to terms with family hardships and trauma and sets out to China herself to find Joy. Getting into China is not easy and both characters are constantly questioned about everything they are, everything they do and everywhere they wish to go.
Joy meets Z.G, the man who is her rightful birth father and becomes involved in the political movement in ways she never imagined. Together her and her father travel to the countryside to what she believes is to help teach art to the peasants in an attempt to paint the new colors of new China. Joy wishes to become a true Chinese—and does so in the worst way she could. Joy is wrapped up in the propaganda and joins the peasants in their way of life, even falling in love and marrying into the peasant village to support the movement—only to discover the control and safety she had over herself and her life in this new country no longer existed.
In the meantime Pearl is wrapped up in nostalgia from her last visit home during her escape with her sister and mother over 20 years ago. What was once a flourishing and culturally rich city of Shanghai is now a desolate wasteland with people helpless to the governmental iron fist. Pearl is faced with the places and memories of her past as well as people from her past who remind her every day of how she lived and how she made it alive. Swept up into the masses like her daughter, Pearl collects paper and materials for the government while she eagerly visits Z.G’s home to wait their arrival back from the countryside.
Both characters find themselves confined and unable to travel around the country at ease, and even worse they are confined with communication. Governmental spies are in the postal system censoring and taking things they believe to be a threat to the country, making contact between different parties rare if not delayed or in touch at all. Pearl, Joy, and May back in the United States write letters to one another with May secretly hiding money, food and gifts and passing them to cousins in their family village to pass along for safekeeping. Once Joy, Z.G and Pearl are together it takes more than family ties to bind together to escape. Dreams of Joy centers around survival, hardship and suffering and the will it takes to make it out alive, and not to mention a carefully planned and executed plan. Joy and Pearl come to terms with their pasts enough to grasp the present in order to build the future—as well as rebuild their family and tie up loose and unforgotten ends.